Monthly Archives: January 2014

Books are Only Imaginary the Second Time

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“There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hands and pray to it. You put it in your pocket and you walk with it. And it stays with you forever.”
- Ray Bradbury
 

Let me guess. You never quite fit in. But you weren’t an outsider like they were. You weren’t a nerd. You weren’t a geek. You never got bullied or picked on. You were just kind of invisible. You’re the kind of person no one ever talks about. You weren’t popular. You weren’t the isolated freak sitting in the corner by yourself either. You were the one who sat at the lunch table with the ordinary kids. No one popular. No one weird. You were part of the kids who were just kind of “there”, but nobody ever cared or noticed if you were there or not. You were the recluse with companions. The loner in a crowd. You had more acquaintances than friends, but not too many of either. Your parents never hurt you or abused you, they just kind of left you alone. Your friends never took you out on your birthday, because none of them ever knew when it was. Nobody ever asked. You got invited to parties. Sometimes. When they remembered you existed. But when you didn’t show up, nobody missed you. You were never there, even when you were standing right in front of them.

Sometimes, you think, if you became a criminal, you could confess to all your crimes on the Internet, and never get arrested. Because no one has ever paid attention to anything you do.

Seems like you almost get hit by a car everytime you walk out of the house, because the world always fails to notice you until the last possible second.

Reading became your glorious escape. Not from an awful life, because your life was never awful, just from one where you were dying because you were already a ghost among the living.

In books, you are alive again. Inside those stories, there are people who feel things. Understand things. Express things. Have emotions. Dreams. Desires. In stories are the friends you wished you had. The kind of people you long to hang out with. The kind who uphold the morality you attempt to preserve. Honorable. Loyal. Devoted. Virtuous. True. Fun. Passionate. Hilarious. Crazy. Alive. More alive upon those pages than any real people you ever see and certainly more alive than you ever permit yourself to be.

The most thrilling part, was the magic of the words. Unread pages in a book seem to be a maelstrom of letters. A swirling whirlpool of possibilities. Anything could happen. Like life itself, you never know where the path will lead. The very first time you read a book it glimmers with the endless magic of any possible future. The characters are living and breathing souls. Every moment is a looking glass into a real world, a real life, where nothing is imaginary at all. You feel the wind in your hair and hear their voices in your ear. You are there. Living the story with them. Only after we read the words do they become solidified. Only after we read the words do they become frozen on the page. Locked into an immovable position for all time.

Books are only imaginary the second time. The first time you read them, they are absolutely real.

Those of you so young you’ve not yet seen the inside of a high school, so new to reading you’ve only just begun to see the spellbinding of bookbindings, may be wondering how the magic works. Why do you look for unpopular books? You’re not like your friends. Sure, when you found your fellow readers, you thought they were like-minded, but they read all those bestsellers. They read what everyone else reads. You don’t. You never do. Why? Why do you intuitively seek out the stories that are not on the bestseller lists?

Here is why.

You, my friends, are gifted. That isn’t a pandering lie that gentle souls tell to lost souls. Those who seek magic, like you, are gifted. That’s why you seek it. You’ve always known that. What is it you always say? You don’t know everything, you just know more than everyone. You don’t think you are better than everyone else. You know you are. Yes, all your life, people have told you that “everyone is special” and everyone has meaning, but, come on, who are we kidding? You know that’s not true. It has never been true. There are souls of this world who are of the darkness. Ones who are empty of mind and spirit. And they are not your equal. You are a being of light and skybound radiance. You are above them. There are beings among us who are the elite and you know who you are. Those inferior denizens who ignorantly profess superiority to be determined by race or wealth or religion or bloodlines or intellect are too far below you to acknowledge. I know who you are. And so do you.

The magic is not a game for you. It’s certainly not some phony fortune teller or deceitful tarot reading and it’s never been explained in a new age bookstore. All the Abrahamic fiction in scriptures of vindictive gods have hidden it. Real magic has never been inscribed in a textbook or taught in a pagan hippie classroom. Rituals and charms and sacraments and ceremonies and gnostic glyphs are for amateurs. When you are a Seer among The Chosen, there is never a need for dogmas or initiations or spellbinding incantations, for the magic is innate in your very breath.

Books are decanters of wonderment. Each holds their own waters of magic. The more who drink from those waters, the less water remains, the more tainted the elixir becomes for all those lips touching the brim, and in time, the decanter is left with nothing but a sheen. All the magic drained away.

This is why the unknown books work better. This is why you are drawn to them. This is why those novels whisper to you. This is why you see the characters so clearly. This is why they come to your dreams. This is why they make the strange noises in your house. The thunderstorms. The lights flickering out down your block. The fewer souls who drink of the decanter, the stronger your connection to the magic will be.

That is why you naturally gravitate to read the novels no one has ever heard of.

For you, reading will never be about the camaraderie felt by book clubs who read what’s popular. For you, reading is about a magic they have never seen. Reading is about opening the gateway. Finding the key to the gardens and locking the door behind you. Adventure belongs unto thee. Quests are solitary. This isn’t a group effort. This mission is yours and yours alone.

You already know all this. I’m not teaching you anything you haven’t always known instinctively. You already know everything I’m talking about, even though you’ve never spoken of this to a single soul. Because you know they’d all think you’re crazy. Wouldn’t they? You’d end up being the only one at the lunch table. So, this is something you keep to yourself. No one else would ever believe you. Would they? They have never lived the magic as you have, because their books are lifeless. Their books have been squeezed bone dry. Their books have lost all their magic. Perhaps most never had it to begin with.

You know where to find it. And you’re keeping your little secret.

How do I know all this? You know it’s not just because I have been in the garden before you. Not just because I know the path to magic as well.

How do I know the magic so well? I’m a novelist. You think I don’t know how the magic works? I’m the conduit who conjures it. The ink which invokes the spell is the ghost of my marrow.

Don’t be ashamed of the fact that you’re better than them. Not everyone is special. But always remember that you are. Stick to the path. Remain pure. Hold to the magic. We’re out gunned. We don’t stand a chance. There are far more of the magicless normals than there are of us. In the end, we’re going to lose. The battle was never ours to win. But be comforted in knowing, the rest of your tribe is out there. Though there be very few of them. But, like you, they keep fighting the good fight. They keep holding vigil for lost hopes and defying the mad gods. And one day, perhaps not until your very last day, they shall call us home.

 
“Stories you read when you’re the right age never quite leave you. You may forget who wrote them or what the story was called. Sometimes you’ll forget precisely what happened, but if a story touches you it will stay with you, haunting the places in your mind that you rarely ever visit.”
- Neil Gaiman

BOOK REVIEW: “The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende

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“What does it matter if something is old? Charles Dickens said any book you haven’t read is a new book. What does it matter whether it’s old?… I don’t understand what this lemming-like dementia is about constantly having new stuff. When was the last time you read the totality of Steinbeck or Faulkner or Katherine Anne Porter or Shirley Jackson? Everybody always wants something new, new, new – and that’s what’s killing life for writers. This dementia for ‘new’ is ridiculous. It turns everybody into a back number… We’re dealing with a more and more illiterate and amnesiac constituency. It’s impossible to get a readership that will follow you, because all they know is what they knew yesterday… And so when I hear this what-are-you-doing-lately thing, or that the Edgeworks books are bringing back all of my older books, I say, ‘Yeah, they’re real old books – like five years old!’ See, I do go off on these things. And if you ask the wrong question, I get real cranky.”
- Harlan Ellison
 

Michael Ende is an author I wish I had met before he passed away in 1995. A few years after his death, I discovered, apparently, he was extremely unhappy, let’s just say “hated”, the film adaption of his 1979 book, The Neverending Story.

If only I could have told him, that movie is what inspired me to become an author. He may have hated the film and what was done to his book, but for me, his story changed my life.

For anyone who has seen the 1984 film starring Tami Stronach (who instantly became the most beautiful girl I had ever seen) and directed by Wolfgang Peterson, I highly recommend you read the novel. Rest assured, I was not the only boy to fall in love with the Childlike Empress that summer. But while she remained only a fantasy to all the other boys, for me, Moon Child became much, much more.

The film only covers the first half of the book. There is far more to the story that the movie never touches upon.

The Neverending Story follows the tale of Bastian Balthazar Bux, a gradeschool boy who steals away in his school attic to read a magical book he has stolen (“borrowed without permission” actually) from a bookstore. If you’ve never seen the film or read the book, I don’t want to reveal anymore than that.

The Neverending Story taught me the magic of storytelling in a way no other book ever has.

See, I firmly believe that all great writers never make up stories. Great writers always hear their stories. The characters speak to you. They talk about their adventures, their hardships, their loves, their sorrows, their joys. Our job is simply to write it down as eloquently and poetically and articulately as we can.

Plenty of people don’t understand that.

Plenty of people don’t believe it.

They think it’s weird or some eccentric delusional trait of creative insanity. Even plenty of fellow writers think it’s weird. (By the way, you writers are the ones who suck really bad.)

That’s fine. I don’t care who believes it or not. My perceptions of life don’t require validation from others.

I live it. I experience it every single day. Stories speak to me. Characters talk to me.

Along with this philosophy, I also firmly believe that as writers, we are destined for our stories. We don’t chose our stories. Stories choose the writer. Characters decide, “We want you to be the one to tell this.”

Certain stories are destined to be written by certain writers. By the same token, certain readers are destined to read certain stories. Thus the magic flows full circle.

In that way, all writers have not only a deep personal connection to their tales, but a rather sacred responsibility to them as well. Stories are truly our children, for the souls of tales are entrusted to us, to nurture and protect, until they are ready to change the world.

Readers, I believe, touch the same well of magic. As readers, stories are like falling in love with a magic soul. Hopefully, you understand what I mean. Hopefully, you have experienced that feeling in your own life. Falling in love is one thing, but finding a magic soul, finding one you love to the core of your very being, ah, that’s a whole different experience. At least, I imagine it would be. The magic souls change your life. You could date hundreds of people in your lifetime and still never meet one magic soul.

For me, The Neverending Story was a magic soul of a book. This was a story that touched me in a way I had never experienced before. The power and wonderment of Michael Ende’s words gave my life purpose, gave my future a dream, gave my heart a passion, and gave wings to my hopes.

When you believe in the magic, odd things can start to happen. Serendipity favors the dreamers. These books aren’t merely entertaining or fun. These are books that conjure blizzards and thunderstorms. These are stories that make the lights go out and scare your cat into hissing at the shadows.

These books take on a biblical sanctity. These aren’t books you love. They become books you revere. Sacred texts.

The Neverending Story is holy to me in all the ways a book can be. Within her pages, the Childlike Empress became my one true love and the queen to whom I have sworn my lifelong fealty. Evermore her devoted knight in piety and chivalric obedience, my pen be brandished in eternal servitude to the Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes.

I don’t know if you would love The Neverending Story as much as I love it. As I said before certain readers are destined to read certain stories. Perhaps, as the character of Carl Conrad Coreander predicts, this book is not for you. When I was 14 years old, I excitedly recommended it to a friend and told him how magical and strange and wondrous it was. I told him how such weird things happened and how I was forced to read by candlelight and how the world felt so different when my journey though Fantastica was done.

And he read it.

And nothing happened.

He thought it was, “Okay.”

Dude, that harshed my bliss.

He didn’t get it.

He didn’t feel it.

For his eyes, there was no magic.

Alas, this book was not for him.

Truth be told, more likely than not, you’ll react the same way my friend did. Chances are, you won’t discover the same magic that I found in The Neverending Story.

Chances are you’ve become too old and cynical to believe in any magic at all.

But if you haven’t…

If you’re still wise enough to know that dreams are not so far removed from reality. If you’re still wishing on stars when no one is looking. If you’re still searching for faerie rings, “just in case…”, then maybe, this book was meant for you.

I am only one in a long line of saviors of Fantastica. We need you. My Empress needs you. You have discovered this book for a reason.

The Nothing grows stronger everyday. Time is running out. Don’t keep us waiting.

BOOK REVIEW: “Faerie Tale” by Raymond E. Feist

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“What does it matter if something is old? Charles Dickens said any book you haven’t read is a new book. What does it matter whether it’s old?… I don’t understand what this lemming-like dementia is about constantly having new stuff. When was the last time you read the totality of Steinbeck or Faulkner or Katherine Anne Porter or Shirley Jackson? Everybody always wants something new, new, new – and that’s what’s killing life for writers. This dementia for ‘new’ is ridiculous. It turns everybody into a back number… We’re dealing with a more and more illiterate and amnesiac constituency. It’s impossible to get a readership that will follow you, because all they know is what they knew yesterday… And so when I hear this what-are-you-doing-lately thing, or that the Edgeworks books are bringing back all of my older books, I say, ‘Yeah, they’re real old books – like five years old!’ See, I do go off on these things. And if you ask the wrong question, I get real cranky.”
- Harlan Ellison

Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist (rhymes with “iced”) is one of my all-time favorite books because it successfully does something I’ve never seen any other author do (with the exception of J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter) and that is, he introduces an ensemble cast without making it confusing who the characters are. Most authors, even highly gifted and experienced ones, are terrible at doing such a thing.

The story of Faerie Tale is a dark urban fantasy, mixing Celtic faerie lore and a young 20th century family who move into a country home in upstate New York next to enchanted woods. I have long maintained the thing which makes stories wonderful is the telling. A great story idea, told terribly, is not a great story. A cliched story idea, told beautifully, is a magical story. You don’t need to be told the plot of this book. You already know it. You’ve seen it all before. Idyllic farmhouse. Happy family moves in. Teenage girl hates it. Young twin boys love it. A cast of character actors come into the picture and you’re visualizing Dan Ackroyd and Bill Murray. There’s an old Irish drunkard and you can’t help but imagine him looking a wee bit like Darby O’Gill. You know the story. Weird things start to happen. The level-headed mother and father are skeptical of what the twins are ranting and raving about and think it’s overactive boys imaginations. The weird things start to become spooky things. The spooky things become downright sinister and evil. Then someone get captured by the faeries and needs to be rescued.

Yeah. It’s really nothing all that inventive or original or creative. But, damn, if the story isn’t told in a way that is so wonderful and engaging and eloquent that you just need to keep reading.

Look at Romeo & Juliet for example. When you distill that story down to the prime elements, boy meets girl, they fall in love, their love is forbidden, through a series of mishaps and miscommunication, their plans to run off together are foiled and end in tragedy. To describe it that way sounds terribly boring. Yet, the way the story of Romeo & Juliet is told, it’s one of the most heartwarming, romantic and heartbreaking stories ever written.

That is what I’m trying to convey in this review of Faerie Tale. The story might sound like something familiar, something you’ve seen a million times before, but the writing is so exquisite and the way the story is told is so lovely, that you enjoy every moment of it. Just as you enjoy Romeo & Juliet, despite knowing it ends in tragedy.

My description of Faerie Tale isn’t meant to be negative or condescending. As I said, this is truly one of my favorite books. For some reason, it’s simply one of the most vivid books I’ve ever read. Even years after reading it, my memories of this story are like replaying a movie. This isn’t the kind of book with passages of quotable text so much as it’s a book drenched with visceral memories. When the characters go into the woods, you can smell the tree bark. When they go to the farmhouse, you can hear a squeaky plank of wood on the porch, even though the author never told you the porch had such a thing. You hear the peal of summer windchimes. You see the golden light trickle down a blade of grass in firefly sparks. When you read Faerie Tale, you are there. You don’t read this story, you live it.

The interesting thing about author Raymond E. Feist is, he only writes books that are part of a series. He has written 10 book series ranging from duologies to tetralogies and Faerie Tale remains the only standalone book he has ever published. Faerie Tale is also the only urban fantasy novel he has written. All the other Raymond E. Feist books are pure high fantasy novels of swords and sorcery. That may seem irrelevant, but as an author myself, I believe this is significant. Breaking out of writing the same kind of novel more than 30 times is going to give you something fresh. New. Exciting. I’ve never met Raymond E. Feist. Never spoken to him. But nevertheless, I am confident to say, as a fellow novelist, this book inspired him in a way nothing else ever had. He finally found himself in unexplored territory. I’m positive that had to be thrilling for him, and I think his enthusiasm shows within the pages.

As a lover of dark faerie tales (the theme of which is very dominant in my own duology The Vampire Noctuaries), this book is not entirely accurate to traditional faerie folklore. Raymond E. Feist conforms to about 70% of traditional stories and the other 30% seems to be entirely made up. He successfully incorporates the darker elements of the unseelie court and the cruelty and sensuality of naughty and deranged impish things. He is accurate about moving days and some faerie charms and glamours and those elements of the story are enchanting for readers who will understand the references. Those of you who are steeped in faerie myth and know a lot about it, might find some elements of Faerie Tale a little annoying, because you’ll know according to tradition, faeries might not behave this way or that. However, most people are only casually aware of Celtic faerie mythologies. Those of you who don’t know anything about faeries beyond A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a few Disney movies, won’t notice how much is kind of skewed in Faerie Tale.

This book, as I have twice reiterated, is one of my favorites of all time. The story is compelling. The characters are vividly realized. The setting comes to life. The scary parts make shadows move in the corner of your bedroom late at night. The atmosphere permeates from makebelieve pages into the very air you breathe. Faerie Tale is a magical story in the best sense of the phrase. When you’re looking for a book to take you out of your boring and mundane world, and deliver you into a place that skirts the line between dream and memory, walk the pages of Faerie Tale and you will find yourself on a path where you have always belonged. Just beware of the Bad Things. They’ll be watching you.